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COVID-19 jabs and young people with Special Needs

Mark Arnold by Mark Arnold Additional Needs

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and supp...

COVID-19 jabs and young people with Special Needs

James is in his late teens, is autistic, has learning difficulties, epilepsy and anxiety, and so he comes in towards the bottom end of category ‘six’ in the Government’s COVID-19 vaccination first phase priority groups: Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group.

Last Monday it was James’ turn to have his first COVID-19 vaccination.

Now James has had jabs before, he gets an annual flu jab for example, but it’s always a process that needs a lot of planning and preparation.

One of the reasons for this is that James is not cognitively able to make decisions about things like medication, vaccinations etc. for himself (a long and detailed CAMHS assessment was gone through just for this); these decisions need to be made for him, in his best interest.

Now in this case, it was in James best interest for him to have his jab, but from his perspective he wouldn’t be too keen on someone sticking a needle in him, so the whole thing had to be carefully arranged so that the jab was administered at home and the needle only appeared at the last minute.

Despite social stories, pictures and lots of talking with James about jabs, we only just about got the jab done in time before James might have flatly refused, a few more seconds and we would have been in trouble.

But getting the vaccination into James’ system was just the beginning.

The following couple of days were hard for James as side effects kicked in causing him to feel unwell, have a painful arm, aching limbs, loose bowel movements and a headache.

James is almost entirely non-verbal, so we had to piece together clues alongside James’ limited communication in order to figure out what side effects he was experiencing and how to help him.

Some pain relief for the aches and pains.

Some deep massage for the painful arm.

Letting him flop across us miserably and giving him gentle reassuring cuddles to ease his overall sense of feeling unwell.

School was completely out of the question, he struggled to get up, move around the house, eat his meals etc. let alone leave the house; something that is a trigger for his anxiety at the very best of times.

The side effects subsided after 48 hours or so, but the impact of it all stayed with James for a few days longer.

It was only when we took him to his favourite farm shop that we saw him perk up and that familiar smile began to return.

Today it is over a week since James’ jab, and it was his first day back at school.

It wasn’t an easy return back, it took ages to get him to transition from the house to the car, and even longer to transition from the car to the school entrance, but he made it and had a great time there.

We hope that tomorrow will be even better. Little steps.

The positives of James having the jab are clear, he will be protected from the virus and will be helping to protect others.

The negatives, while hopefully short lived, have nevertheless been significant for him.

Would we go through it all again?

Yes, the long-term positives are worth it, it is still very much in his best interest, but I wish I had read a blog post like this beforehand so that we could be aware of what might happen and be even better prepared.

Do get the jab for your young people, but don’t plan much for the few days afterwards!


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